Some NYC Bars Lightnen Up
Whether you’ve been smoking a pack a day since you were 15 or consider yourself a high-minded “social smoker,” there’s no better complement than a cigarette to a stiff drink. With New York City’s 2003 smoking ban in bars and restaurants, smokers have been forced to trek into the cold or ignore the itch. A few establishments, however, have found ways to get around the ban and please their respiratorily-challenged clientele.
Vol de Nuit
148 W. 4 St.
Also known as the Belgian Beer Lounge, the bar is named after a 1931 French novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And with its sparse, bombed-out looking courtyard, low red lighting, and worn wooden furniture, Vol de Nuit (“night flight”) definitely has that between-the-wars vibe. And was there ever a better time to light up with a pale lager?
Vol de Nuit offers over 40 European beers — most from Belgium and Germany — and several wines. Stella, Leffe and Hoegaarden are always on tap, but if you aren’t obsessed with old-world beer the prices (Stella, their cheapest beer, will cost you $7) might be a bit steep.
Finding a seat in the courtyard can be a battle — especially on a weekend. And with winter approaching, Vol de Nuit will soon be out of season. Still, on a Thursday night in August, I can’t think of a better place to pretend that I’m about to cross the Ardennes and just need to relax.
32 Watts St. (Btw. Sixth Avenue and Thompson Street)
Circa Tabac isn’t trying to fool anybody. “You can smoke at Circa Tabac,” declare their signature matchboxes. “New York City’s only cigarette lounge.” The bar offers a bouquet of cigarettes instead of bar nuts and their busboys are quick to refresh your ashtrays. How do they do it? Circa isn’t technically a bar, it’s a cigarette lounge, but with their extensive list of cocktails, spirits and wines, you could have fooled me.
After the smoking ban, Circa became one of six designated tobacco bars in NYC — the only one catering to cigarette smokers. The atmosphere at Circa Tabac is more upscale — the waitresses wear little black dresses and thick velvet curtains cover the windows. Owner Lee Ringelheim claims he based his concept on French Art Deco à la the Orient Express. The walls are adorned with French, Japanese and Spanish cigarette advertisements and movie posters.
The music is dead on — an eclectic range from Johnny Cash and the Smiths to Radiohead and Biggie. The clientele is a young and distinctly downtown blend — club-hoppers, businessmen and the occasional college student. Ringelheim is adamant about maintaining a younger crowd with his “cigarette lounge” designation. One group, however, is noticeably and happily absent: hipsters.
While Circa Tabac looks pricey, my usual order — a Maker’s Mark ($10, their cheapest whiskey) and Stella ($6) — is on par for a typical night in Manhattan. My recommendation: order the vodka martini. Circa’s is damn good and with a long drag you’ll feel just like Humphrey Bogart.Irish Haven
5721 4 Ave., Sunset Park
If you’re less interested in the swank and just want to get sauced with some new friends, try Irish Haven in Sunset Park. It’s a true Irish bar and less “dive” than neighborhood. Don’t let the “No Smoking” signs fool you — after 11 p.m. they lock the doors and light up. You’ll have to wait outside for the charming, brogue-talking bartender to buzz you in.
The Guinness may be cheap at the Haven ($4) but the palaver is free. This is a place for regulars. At midnight on a Tuesday, the bartender and her mates were just starting a round of flip cup.
With Little League trophies, signposts from the Emerald Isle, a jukebox and pool table — the Haven looks like a typical Irish bar. If you think you’ve been there before, it might be the homey atmosphere — or maybe it’s because Martin Scorcese chose to film “The Departed” here. I wouldn’t recommend ordering cranberry juice.